House Approves Medical Malpractice Reform Bill; Opposition Expected in Senate
The House on Thursday voted 230-194 to approve a medical malpractice reform bill (HR 5), CQ Today reports. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), would limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 and punitive damages to $250,000 or two times the economic damages, whichever is greater. The measure also would limit the amount a plaintiff's attorney could charge in contingency fees.
According to the CQ Today, the rule for House debate did not allow amendments to be added to the measure, "frustrating lawmakers who were particularly" opposed to a provision regarding pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers (Schuler, CQ Today, 7/28). The provision would protect drug and device makers from punitive damages if the companies can show they complied with all applicable regulations before FDA approval and after their drugs reached the market (Cohen, Newark Star-Ledger, 7/29).
According to the CQ Today, the bill is "identical" to legislation that the House approved twice during the 108th Congress but that died in the Senate. The current measure will now move to the Senate where it faces "almost certain demise," CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 7/28).
Democratic House members said that the legislation would reduce legitimate medical malpractice lawsuits and protect pharmaceutical companies from class-action lawsuits. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said, "They take medical malpractice, a sympathetic issue, and use it to cloak immunity that is given to the drug manufacturers" (Higgins, Washington Times, 7/29)."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "This Congress is the gift that keeps on giving" to drug companies. He added, "At some point the pharmaceutical industry has to be held accountable" (CQ Today, 7/28).
Sponsors of the bill said it would reduce rising malpractice premiums and help physicians maintain their practices, resulting in improved access to care (CongressDaily, 7/29).
Gingrey said the bill would not prohibit patients from filing malpractice lawsuits against drug manufacturers, physicians, hospitals or medical devices companies (Washington Times, 7/29). He added that the debate was "a distraction from the real problem" of increasing malpractice insurance premiums (CQ Today, 7/28).